Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Under ordinary circumstances I wouldn't much care to comment on Taylor Branch's book about his conversations with Bill Clinton, much less Joe Klein's review of it, but like a blind pig Klein comes up with a truffle: the 'great theme' of the book, he says, is "the struggle of a president mostly interested in policy against an opposition party obsessed with regaining power."

"The Republican efforts to undermine Clinton were rarely substantive and often unscrupulous. The president was impeached not because he committed anything resembling a high crime, but because the effort would cripple him at a moment when he might have gotten something accomplished — his popularity was running at 60 percent or so, the economy was booming. During the Clinton presidency, the Republicans accelerated their slide from a party of responsible conservatives to a party of antigovernment talk-show nihilists. Leaders like Bob Dole were intimidated by bomb-throwers like Newt Gingrich."

I'm not sure when this tremendous insight stuck Klein; it was nowhere in evidence back when he was reporting on the Clinton administration, or the impeachment, for that matter, but he deserves credit for getting it right in 2009, ten years or so after it might have made some difference. It's pretty to think that someone might notice that the same observation remains true today, and that our current president is confronted with opposition with exactly the same motives, but I'm afraid that would be too much to hope for.

(I also think, for whatever it is worth, that Klein over-values the quality of Bob Dole's leadership. Dole was always a Republican hatchet man, which is why he finally got a turn at the Republican Presidential nomination. I suppose he is marginally more honorable than John McCain, but that's not much of a metric.)

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